Coping Stategies for Survivors of Sexual Assault

Coping Stategies for Survivors of Sexual Assault

As a victim of sexual assault, either past or present, you may be left feeling fearful, out of control and vulnerable.

In order to cope with these feelings, you may have developed a range of coping strategies, both positive and negative that help you to disconnect from the traumatic events. Negative coping strategies are very good at helping in the short term, however used in the long term they can prolong the trauma.

Some negative coping strategies include:

  • alcohol,
  • illegal substances,
  • prescription drugs,
  • promiscuous sexual acts,
  • eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, purging and laxative use),
  • self-harm,
  • denial and isolation,
  • suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts.

Although positive strategies can take more time to help, when practised they provide a safe long term way of dealing with the distress of trauma.

Some positive coping strategies include:

  • 1:1 or group therapy. There are many different forms of therapeutic support available to meet the needs of sexual violence survivors which can help recovery. Not all groups or therapy suits everyone, so don’t be afraid to try different things.
  • Distraction; although having some time to think and process the events that have happened, having this on your mind all the time can be extremely distressing. Distraction techniques can include reading, writing, drawing, exercise, watching a film, listening to music, walking, knitting, jigsaws or any other hobby that allows you to immerse yourself and focus on something other than the trauma.
  • Building a support network of family and friends that you can message or phone when things become too much.
  • Building a self-care toolbox filled with grounding equipment, stress balls, nail varnish, happy photos, affirmations, quotes and words of hope. Items such as stones, crystals, rubber bands and pins can help to ground you in moments when your thoughts and feelings become too much. Bubble bath and candles can help to relax you before bed helping you to sleep.
  • Mindfulness, which is the art of allowing yourself to be present in the moment, allowing thoughts to pass by without attaching judgement or feelings to them just noticing them and bringing yourself back into the present. Allowing yourself to feel the sensation of your feet touching the ground, feeling something smooth or rough, notice the colours around you, smell the air and listen to what can you hear around you are all parts of mindfulness techniques to keep you in the present.
  • Meditation, relaxation and yoga allow you to become more self-aware, helping you to be present in the moment without your thoughts running away with you. This can be done by attending a class or using a DVD or YouTube channel. Practise is key; when you are a victim of sexual assault it can be hard to reconnect with your body but by doing so you will be able to view your body in a different more positive light.
  • Peer support can be very helpful. People who have experienced similar things can provide reciprocal support that can help both parties.
  • Decorating can help.  Often when a sexual assault has happened in the home, the room can feel unclean and contaminated, prompting flashback and negative thoughts about the abuse.
  • Journal writing allows you to empty your mind of thoughts, giving insight and understanding about your current situation. A journal doesn’t have to make sense; it is what you make it and can prove to be a healing tool. Journal writing allow you to focus your mind and share your thoughts without the worry of judgement. By writing, you can remove your thoughts and feelings and when you have finished you can shut the book and walk away. Journaling also helps you to focus on the positive things in your life and allow you to begin to accept these and help them grow.
  • Giving yourself 30 minutes to focus on your thoughts and feelings about the abuse allows your mind to accept what is happening and frees it up for more positive thoughts for the rest of the day.
  • Reporting information anonymously about the assault to the Police allows you to have a voice and report the events of what happened without being identified.
  • Squeeze, throw or hit a ball; anger can be a difficult emotion to feel often leading to negative coping behaviour. In order to allow yourself to feel this normal emotion and express this in a safe way doing activities which make you physically move can release the anger leaving you feeling more relaxed and able to cope.
Get in touch via isva@idas.org.uk or ring our helpline on 03000 110 110.
“I just want to thank you. When I first came to you, I had nobody to talk to about the rape and you totally supported me through the whole process. You walked me all the way through everything and made sense of a horrible situation I was in and I don’t know how I would have managed alone. You literally saved my life.”